‘Tis the season to be jolly

Image result for christmas stress cartoonIt’s the season of goodwill, generosity, peace on Earth, all that lovely stuff: so why is it harder to love people at Christmas than at any other time of the year?

When we get stressed, our mind fills up with mental noise and it’s hard to find space for other people in it. And Christmas can be stressful, what with all the expectations.

Image result for christmas stress cartoonSo, we need a strategy for not biting anyone’s head off this year. First, try to identify what is causing you stress. No, I don’t mean the gift shopping or the cooking or the in-laws – they are not the cause of your stress! Stress is a part of the mind, and comes from our unhelpful ways of thinking: so identify the thoughts that are sending you into a tail-spin. Is it the expectation of a perfect dinner, or expecting there to be a big family row?

Then we can try to adjust our expectations. Instead of expecting the worst, we can try and reduce the likelihood of an argument by being peaceful ourselves, so we can act as a calming influence on those around us. And instead of expecting perfection, we can be realistic. What is a ‘perfect’ Christmas dinner anyway? Surely, it is one where people are relaxed, not stressed – and that doesn’t depend on the spuds being roasted exactly right, it depends on you being relaxed!

So, let’s focus on changing our minds to prepare for Christmas: being happy is the best present you can give your family.

Merry Something

Image result for raymond briggs father christmasI won’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ – not because I’m a Buddhist, but because it can get a bit annoying after a while. Do you find yourself thinking ‘Well, of course I’d like to have a Merry Christmas, but I’m under far too much pressure for that, thank you very much!’

The more expectation there is, the more we grasp at creating the conditions for a perfect day, then the harder it is to actually enjoy ourselves. It is the mind of attachment that creates those expectations, believing that after all the effort we’ve put in we absolutely must have fun; but ironically, the more pressure we put on ourselves to be happier, the less happy we become. It’s not wrong to want to be happy – at Christmas or any other time – but grasping after that happiness is not the way to go. Just focus on creating the causes of happiness – and I don’t mean by making perfect roast spuds, I mean by trying to stay relaxed and peaceful – and let our enjoyment arise naturally from that, without pushing.

Attachment is very narrow in its focus. In the same way that if we focus on just one person as being who we need then we will naturally develop attachment towards them, if we focus just on Christmas Day we will develop attachment to that as the source of our happiness. When we develop equanimity and love everyone, out focus is spread out and there is no longer any basis for attachment; in the same way, if we spread out our focus and aim to make every day a good day, not just one, then we’ll be able to relax and enjoy our Christmas.

So let go of Christmas and have a merry everyday!

P.S. If you need a bit of help recovering, come to our New Year course!